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Published on March 23rd, 2012

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EXPERIENCE REVIEW: Laneway Festival 2012

By Nicholas Pipe

Unpredictable weather, alcopops, jeans tighter than the event security – yep, everyone’s favourite indie music festival had arrived.

Complaints of poor timetabling and an over-allocation of tickets had blighted last year’s Laneway festival, so organisers were under pressure this time around.

First musical impressions were good, though. Local act, Steering By Stars were powerful; Total Control, loud and fuzzy; Austra, just bizarre. Plenty of variety, and we were only an hour in.

But the stage-hopping stopped for most people when Cults appeared and blasted through an excellent repertoire of 60s-influenced pop. Leading lady Madeline Follin broke hearts (or maybe just mine) with an intoxicating dose of indie chic, while guitarist Brian Oblivion – also Madeline’s significant other – spearheaded a tight backing band.

After sending Cults off, the masses moved to the Courtyard Stage for another couple of New Yorkers. Latecomers may have missed Chairlift open with radio favourite, Sidewalk Safari, but that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered – not even the rain that poured down as Caroline Polachek wailed away on her 2008 hit, Bruises. The crowd lapped up every breezy pop song, and the only person not smiling was bassist Patrick Wimberly, whose equipment was getting soaked. But even he admitted this was the best Laneway audience the band had played to.

I then ventured out towards George Streetfor Active Child, and walked into the festival’s biggest planning flaw. Underestimation or not, George Street was nowhere near big enough for the crowd that packed in, and the slope upwards toward the stage made things impossible for anyone at the back. Active Child sounded fantastic; it’s just a pity you couldn’t see them.

One man summed up the crowd’s frustration perfectly. Like Spiderman in an op-shop jacket, he climbed up a drainpipe and balanced expertly on a second-floor windowsill for a better view.

He came down, but probably should have stayed there for The Drums, who were next up on George Street. Somehow the crowd doubled and everyone was instantly wedged together. It got downright scary when the band started playing – and not even excellent renditions of Money, Forever & Ever Amen, or Days could prevent me and many others from fighting our way back through the sea of bodies to escape.

My refuge wasn’t too bad, though. On arrival at the Courtyard Stage, Londonfolk starlet Laura Marling had the audience literally under her spell. Dusk had fallen, and nobody moved as she brilliantly played her way through a brooding, poetic set on a dimly lit stage. Marling was followed by The Horrors, who got everybody moshing again with a thunderous hour of stadium-sized rock.

Meanwhile at Fowlers Live, Jonti was playing a ukulele to a thin but devoted audience. Putting down the uke, he checked his watch and announced he had finished his set 20 minutes early. “I guess I’ll just play you all some dirty beats,” he decided, before launching into a medley of dubstep and electro on the adjacent decks.

After that brief excursion, it was time for the headline act in the Courtyard. French group, M83 emerged from a smoky stage and kicked off proceedings with Intro, the opening track on 2011 album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Every band member gave their all for the next hour, and interacted with the crowd like few other acts at the festival did. The huge wave of synths, keys and guitars, backed up by some pounding live and programmed drums, was space-rock of the highest order and made for a truly wonderful set. It was surprising, therefore, to hear frontman Anthony Gonzalez proclaiming the Courtyard “the worst sounding stage” he had ever played. You have to wonder what his band sounds like when he’s happy.

All in all, Laneway 2012 was a success. It didn’t sell out, but the number of festival-goers was right for the venue – so hopefully ticket sales are capped accordingly at future festivals. If you could forgive the George Street indiscretions and the handful of touring artists who skipped the Adelaide event, the timetable worked well too. And if the quality acts keep rolling in, you sense the local indie set will be marking their February calendar pages for years to come.

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